A few years ago NFL 2K for the Dreamcast released. At the time, Madden was the dominant football franchise. The game quickly gained a reputation with Dreamcast owners as the franchise that could quite possibly knock off Madden as the king of the digital gridiron. After two more successful installments and the exit of the Dreamcast from the console wars, NFL 2K3 hits the Playstation 2 - as well as the other next-gen consoles - and looks to go head to head with Madden. Sega Sports and Visual Concepts understand that in order to do that quite a few improvements must be made.
Stadiums will be fully redesigned to match their real-life counterparts. Small details like the clothing of fans and trademark designs. The Oakland Stadium is by far the most impressive so far. The infamous "Black Hole" near the south end zone is there and full of die-hard Raider fans. The new Seahawks stadium will be in this year's version as well as the Bears new temporary home of the University of Illinois' football stadium due to the renovation of Soldier Field during 2002.
Players are being remodeled to look more realistic. The series has always had these slightly weird looking characters. They had a sort of "Hunchback of Notradam" look to them. Now the NFL 2K3 team is looking to beef up the character models with the use of the power of the Playstation 2. Players now sport equipment, such as shoulder pads, that are completely independent from the rest of the player's body. This means that they will get knocked around and might even fall out of the collar of the uniform after a brutal hit. This new feature adds more animation to the players, which makes the whole experience look more natural and real.
The gameplay has always been top notch in the NFL 2K series. The already excellent passing game is seeing some nice enhancements. Players can now choose audibles while they select their play. When they enter the menu to choose a play, they can hold one of the shoulder buttons and press select. This will add that play as an audible in the next play. This new audible system adds a lot of depth to the game and will relieve you of the hassle of going to the menu to set the audibles. The defensive AI will now adapt to audibles and hot routes that you call by doing an audible of their own to match up better against your new offensive play.
The running game is also being refined. Strong running backs like Jerome Bettis will rip through smaller defenders with ease and can easily break at least one or two tackles on every run. It helps if you use an offensive line like the Steelers', that can create huge running lanes for these types of backs. The speedier backs like Marshall Faulk will run the corners quickly and blow by slower linebackers, leaving the rest to the safeties and defensive backs. New stiff arms, jukes and spins will help gain some extra yardage if you know how to use them.
The ESPN influence will play only a small role in this year's game, but it will have a larger impact in future installments of the series. Even though the ESPN crew won't be very apparent in NFL 2K3, the game will see a ton of presentation improvements. During the season and franchise mode, there will be a weekly recap show. This "show" will air highlights of the games that took place during the week, including yours. Unfortunately neither Chris Berman nor Mike Tirico will do these. Damn, well there's always next year.
Speaking of the franchise mode, NFL 2K3's is easily the biggest improvement in the game. When you first enter the franchise mode, you are thrust to a screen where you create a coach with various details. After you finish creating your team's coach, you're taken to the general manager's office. This is where you take control of your team from a computer. You can do absolutely everything here. Manage your team calendar, set up a playbook (sorry, you can't create your own plays), and place players on the trading block. The trading block is actually quite interesting. Essentially all you have to do is put a player on the trading block, simulate a few days ahead on the calendar, and check back to see what offers have been made.
After you've either lead your team to the Super Bowl or to the No. 1 draft pick selection spot, you have to manage your team and its salary cap in the off-season. Everything from retired players to free agents is available for your viewing. Once you deal with all of the current NFL players, it's time to bring some into the league.
The NFL Draft is incredibly in-depth. You head over to Madison Square Garden, the home of the draft, and set up your laptop and PDA, which is used to communicate with your assistant coaches. Stats nuts will go crazy with the amount of information available. Scouting reports, the needs of your team, advice on how to play the draft, and even a mock draft that will play out the likely picks by each team are at your fingertips. NFL 2K3 might just have the most impressive draft to date.
NFL 2K3 will feature the Sega Sports Challenge mode. Basically you will receive a code after each game that you can submit at SegaSports.com that will help keep track of all of your stats and rank you with other players around the world. Sega plans to reward players with the best statistics in certain categories, such as the leading passer, by giving away downloadable features and maybe even a T-shirt.
NFL 2K3 looks to improve on its already winning formula. The game features both subtle and huge improvements every where you look. The battle between NFL 2K and Madden has only begun, but the rewards from this war are already making their presence felt.
7/16/2002 Anthony Perez